Chef Salvatore Barcellona – Manzil Downtown Dubai
New Chef in Town
One of Dubai’s leading boutique properties Manzil Downtown has recently welcomed Italian Head Chef Salvatore Barcellona to lead the culinary operations of all the dining venues of the hotel, including The Courtyard, Boulevard Kitchen and Nezesaussi Grill. A Sicilian native, Chef Salvatore started his culinary career in 1996 in his native land Italy and went on to acquire over 20 years of experience in a number of reputable hotels and restaurants across the globe, including Germany and the USA. In 2011, Chef Salvatore arrived in the UAE where he was excited to explore the dynamic culinary environment that the city has become renowned for. We sat down with the Chef at the beautiful Courtyard Restaurant in Manzil Downtown Dubai and talked to him about his culinary journey, his love for Sicilian/Italian cuisine and his aspirations.
Tell us about yourself, how did your love for food start?
Chef Salvatore Barcellona: I was born in Palmero Sicily, Italy which is famous for seafood. I got my inspiration from my mother who is a Chef herself. From the very young age, I watched my mother cook traditional Italian food and I started to notice that I have a passion for food myself. My mom worked for big events and catering. I started working and helping my mom when I was just 13 years old. After finishing my high school, I started working in small restaurants and eventually got my first job in a famous resort in Italy.
Who inspired you to cook?
Chef Salvatore Barcellona: Definitely my mother inspired me to cook. I learned a lot about cooking from her including traditional Italian dishes and every ingredient I work with reminds me of what she taught me. She also came to meet me in Dubai last year and when she saw me cooking she felt proud of me.
What is the one ingredient you love working with?
Chef Salvatore Barcellona: My preferred ingredient is the basic onion. A lot of people think it is just too simple, but the combo of onions and olive oil is the most important thing in Italian cuisine. In fact, not only in Italian cuisine but onions are the kings in all cuisine types. Besides onions I love working with fresh ingredients like cherry tomatoes, basil, all fresh herbs and they are never missing in my cuisine.
What is your favorite type of protein?
Chef Salvatore Barcellona: My favorite type of protein is seafood, as I was born near the sea. I remember as a kid we would go catch fresh seafood especially sea urchins. In Palermo, we specialize in cooking spaghetti pasta with sea urchins in a simple way, with olive oil garlic sea urchin black pepper and salt and when you eat this pasta it feels like you are eating the sea with all the fresh and natural flavors. I have a very good memory of those days as I would personally catch them and cook it.
What type of cuisine is your favorite?
Chef Salvatore Barcellona: My favorite cuisine is Mediterranean cuisine, as in Sicily we use almost the same ingredients to cook. They have food with a lot of different colors which is very healthy. I also like to try other types of cuisines like Spanish cuisine etc.
Middle Eastern cuisine and Italian cuisine are culturally and traditionally very different, how do you bridge the gap between the two?
Chef Salvatore Barcellona: For me, it is easy to mix the two cuisines, because there’s a dominant majority of Arabs in Sicily from Morocco and Tunisia. And for long now we have been mixing Italian cuisine with Arabic ingredients. We use lentils, couscous with seafood, lamb and different spices from the Middle East in Sicilian cuisine. Some of the dishes are also very similar like mutabbal, we have a similar dish with fried aubergine and tomatoes. For me, it is very easy to use and play around with Middle Eastern ingredients.
What is your favorite Middle Eastern ingredient?
Chef Salvatore Barcellona: I like chickpeas and hummus. In Sicily, we have something similar called Panelle, which is made of chickpea flour. We cook it by boiling it and then fry it. This is one of the most famous street food in Sicily. When I came to UAE and tasted hummus it immediately reminded me of my country.
What are your plans to give a fresh boost or direction to the dining options at Manzil Downtown?
Chef Salvatore Barcellona: In Manzil we are ready to introduce my touch especially for the Friday brunch and the Seafood night on Thursday. We are also planning to introduce a Pasta station where we will show the guests how to make fresh ravioli and other types of pasta. We will also be starting business lunch and we also want to give more options to our guest with different other cuisines. We will maintain the Arabic mezze, however, we will introduce Italian / Mediterranean touch in the main course.
How do you find the culinary scene in Dubai?
Chef Salvatore Barcellona: In Dubai, there are a lot of restaurants claiming authenticity of flavors and ingredients, but they are not always the authentic restaurants.
How to find an authentic Italian restaurant?
Chef Salvatore Barcellona: The simple way to know if the restaurant is authentic Italian is to notice a few things. When you enter the restaurant the hospitality staff and the hostesses should greet you warmly, this is fundamental to Italian hospitality. Then look at the menu sometimes the spellings and the names aren’t correct. And lastly, of course, see where the chef’s from, whether he’s an Italian Chef or from some other place. If you have an Italian chef with an Italian manager you are in good hands.